Guntis Šmidchens

Variants, American and Estonian Folkloristics

15.12.2021 2775 vaatamist Humaniora Folkloristika

Professor Guntis Šmidchens (Washingtoni ülikool, Seattle) peab professor Walter Andersonile pühendatud e-loengu “Variants in American and Estonian Folkloristics” 15. detsembril kell 18. Loeng on kolmas Andersoni loengute sarjas.

Guntis Šmidchens, Kazickas Family Endowed Professor of Baltic Studies (University of Washington, Seattle) will give the third Anderson lecture. He is Associate Professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, and is an expert on Baltic folkore, and the author of “The power of song” (2014).


“Variants in American and Estonian Folkloristics”

There is no single idea more central to conceptions of folklore than that of the variant. An orientation toward variability (and the variant as its concrete manifestation) helps me describe and interpret recent Estonian singing traditions. And it also helps me imagine a global history of folkloristics. In 1950, when American, European and Asian folklorists assembled at the legendary “Four Symposia,” they didn’t reach consensus on a definition of folklore (Stith Thompson’s friend and special invited guest, Walter Anderson, warned Symposia participants to avoid the undesirable consequences of narrow definitions, where “some very important practical kinds of folklore have been neglected and forgotten by most of the folklorists”). But they didn’t question the meaning of “variant.” And they shared interest in discussing four pursuits of folklorists worldwide: Collecting, archiving, popularizing and studying folklore variants. Decades later, these scholarly traditions continue strong in the professional folkloristics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. But our mainstream American folkloristics pursues theoretical unity in narrow folklore definitions (“artistic communication in small groups,” “oral performance,” “informal traditional culture,” etc.) that marginalize the discipline by excluding the most viable, memorable and powerful folklore; we have largely abandoned activities of archiving and cataloging folklore variants, and so also lost knowledge about the globally oriented comparative activities of our discipline’s founders. Maybe this is a reason why the international center of folkloristics today is shifting to the Baltic countries.



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